I was there, when it began. Browsing the Bethsoft forums, seeing what the gang was up to in de-constructing Skyrim's files for modding, when an update came down the pipes through Steam.
It wasn't what we expected: an update to fix the numerous bugs people had been experiencing, not the least of which were constant crash-to-desktops at the most inopportune times. These were so bad, in fact, that some people were unable to play more than five minutes between crashes and had shelved the game.
Until, that is, some users discovered that applying the LAA (Large Address Aware) flag to TESV.exe fixed most all their crash issues. This is a common trick used with many games to allow the game to see and take advantage of more than 2GB of memory, the default for a 32-bit application. Some savvy game developers, recognising people are using 64-bit Windows now and a majority have at least 4GB of memory, have started shipping their game executables LAA aware.
But not Bethesda, yet. And so a huge number of players were using a simple tool (like this one here) to set the flag for Skyrim and, as a result, were enjoying a crash-free experience for the clearly memory-limited game. Keep that in mind for a moment.
So the update streams down through Steam, and is it a long-awaited fix for all the crashing issues? No. Does it fix the numerous quest bugs or game balance? No. So what was the update for then?
DRM. To tie TESV.exe to Steam such that you need Steam running, like many Steam games, to play Skyrim. Oh and, in the process, making it impossible to now apply the LAA flag – modifying the .exe triggers Steam's VAC protection and stops the game loading.
Cue the inevitable shitstorm. Within 30 minutes a thread started filling up on the forums. Within an hour, there was 400 replies on one and over 600 forum members, let alone unregistered lurkers, watching the thread. It spun on and on with rage, pain, and tears as gamers were unable to use LAA and their games were crashing left, right and center. Not to mention the update somehow invalidated some user's savegames, and mysteriously caused others to start experiencing worse performance problems than before.
And not a single word came out of Bethesda. The thread filled up to its limit, another was started, it too filled its limit, another was started... the shitstorm had continued for over 48 hours and is still going, and through it not one one official response from Bethesda acknowledging the issues or even why the DRM was enforced at all – after all, as one enterprising forumite pointed out: to play the game you had activated it at least once, and to get the DRM update you had to have been using Steam in the first place – and how could it be sent to you if you didn't already own a legitimate copy through Steam? In other words, as with most DRM, it was bloody pointless and – along with breaking the ability to use LAA – this pointless dick move only inflamed the shitstorm more.
The irony is not lost on us that many users either hinted at, or openly admitted to, going to a torrent site and grabbing the pirated version – with its unaltered .EXE file of Skyrim – just so they could play their legitimately purchased copy again. It was also news to everyone following the thread that Skyrim was in fact originally DRM-free, news that had now been spread wide and far. Way to encourage further piracy. Bethesda, meet Streisand Effect.
Somewhere at Bethesda there is an executive, or cadre of executives, who are out of touch with their customers, and arrogant enough to not even address the problems they've caused. The lack of an official response in the forums has served to add fuel to the shitstorm and alienate the very customers who keep the company afloat. It doesn't take much to admit a mistake, or stand by your actions by explaining why. Unfortunately the company remains silent.
I watched and read and felt for my fellow gamers, though I've been too busy working to actually start playing yet. Who knows what will happen when the next official patch comes with much-needed bugfixes, with the Steam DRM wrapper left in place and LAA unable to function, but it shows yet again just how pointless DRM is and that – always – it’s legitimate users who suffer while pirates play trouble-free. And that, in turn, only encourages legitimate users to turn to piracy.
When I get around to playing I'll be using the DRM-free and LAA-enabled version, thank you very much. My Orc doesn't take kindly to being dropped to desktop mid-game, and you really don't want to see what he does to those who make him angry...